I have always loved jewellery. From even a young age, I can recall very clearly the trips to London which took me down the Victoria & Albert Museum’s vaulted hallways, through long corridors lined with exotic treasures, and always ended with my breath frosting the glass of the tall cases which held inside them glittering gems on inky velvet cushions.
My younger self’s fascination with the V&A’s collection is entirely understandable. As one of the most important collections of jewellery in the world, with over 3000 pieces, some of which date back to 800 BC. The museum holds some of the most beautiful stones in the history of the civilised world within its walls – not only the biggest and brightest, but those whose shimmering facets hide histories of love and loss, artists and adventures, smugglers, vagabonds and vows, all bound up in jewellery whose stones have seen millennia pass by, and will be here still long after we are gone.
For me, however, it was the mid-17th century onwards’ colour and sparkle that really grabbed me. These are the jewels worn by the kings, queens, courtiers and courtesans who lit up the high society of the day. I was compelled by the history of these stones and ornaments, which were not only a symbol of wealth and luxury, but tiny pieces of art in themselves - sentimental gifts passed through from generation to generation until their paths are intertwined in a web of histories’ brightest and best. Oddly, it was only while researching The Londonderry Jewels a few years ago for an article, that I realised that some of the most important pieces of the collection in fact once belonged to a relative of mine.
Lady Theresa Chetwynd-Talbot, daughter of the 19th Earl of Shrewsbury, was the second cousin once removed of my grandmother, Mary Chetwynd-Talbot. Lady Theresa married the 6th Marquess of Londonderry and consequently came into possession of one of the most superb collection of jewels in the United Kingdom, after that of Queen Victoria. In fact, the story goes that at the Coronation of Edward VII in 1903, while wearing the famous Londonderry Tiara (on display) a post-service trip to the lavatory combined with the diadem’s rather unsteady securing led to a servant having to take a mercy plunge to retrieve it. I suppose that is one thing I have inherited – jewellery has always been in my blood!
But my own story starts while I was reading French Literature & Language at Exeter University, when I decided that my future path lay in the world of luxury. As part of my degree I spent a year in France and landing in Paris, I took up roles in the press office of Chanel, and then Christian Dior. As well as immersing myself in these two iconic fashion houses, I would cherish my Wednesday evenings when The Louvre opened late and I could visit its large and extensive collection of jewellery, which included many of the French Crown Jewels, just as I had at the Victoria & Albert as a child.
Of course I soon returned from my altogether too-short placement, finished my degree, and went up to London to work for Simon Astaire (now a very successful author and director based in Los Angeles) whose Public Relations office looked after Bvlgari and the newly created Ritz Fine Jewellery. Alongside my role liaising with the press, I took great pleasure in accompanying the jewellery on the various photoshoots we organised in magazines such as Vogue, Tatler, Harpers & Queen (as it then was) and other glossy publications. From Philip Baldwin (then manager of Bvlgari on Sloane Street) and Paul Carter (manager of the Ritz Fine Jewellery at The Ritz on Piccadilly) I learnt so much about these exquisite jewels, as well as from my own research, which I still immersed myself in at every snatched opportunity.
Five years on and several adventures later, including a year spent living in South Africa, the land of diamonds, and a stint satisfying my wanderlust in travel PR, I was employed by the diamond king, Laurence Graff, as Head of PR at his eponymous fine jewellery house, Graff Diamonds. It was there that I really learnt as much as I could about this world, about not just luxury jewellery but diamonds themselves – so secretive yet so alluring. At Graff there were so many facets to my time there that I could spread my wings, and in all directions. From flying out to New York for a week to help our NYC PR organise the launch of the Madison Avenue flagship store (and go to more parties in a week than I thought was physically possible) to visiting The Cullinan Mine in South Africa. Opening a leadership centre for girls in Lesotho as part of Graff’s FACET Foundation to organising and helping to curate a charity auction of contemporary art at Christie’s in London. But most importantly, Graff gave me the opportunity to handle such magical gemstones and pieces of jewellery like nowhere else.
When I left Graff I spent a year in Monaco working for a gold mining executive and learning all about the metal that so many of these gemstones have been set in over the millennia. At the end of 2011 my mother died after an inexorable and cancerous illness. She taught me how to read and write and instilled in me a lifelong passion for literature. Thanks to her generosity I was able to take a year off to write my first novel, a dream I have always had. It took much longer than I imagined but, like diamonds, the best things in life are worth the time they take. After two years living between Argentina and Uruguay, I finished my novel at the end of 2014 and, having already decided to publish through a small UK publishing house, Heddon Publishing, The Diamond Connection was launched on what would have been my mother’s 68th birthday, 6th March 2015. The second, a novella, came out at Christmas 2018, and is aptly called The Christmas Connection. The next in the series is out in June 2019, and called The Monte Carlo Connection.
Currently, I am in the process of writing the fourth novel in the series of jewellery mysteries starring the intrepid diamond detective Jemima Fox-Pearl and set in Paris. Each new story has had me knee deep in beautiful jewellery books for research, and, of course, has prompted quite a few return trips to my beloved museums. Alongside this, I have done copywriting projects for various luxury brands - including The De Beers Group and Forevermark. And I have set up a jewellery auction online magazine The Jewellerian… it is very new and very bare as yet - but I want to publicise as much as possible the beautiful, and often overlooked, pieces of jewellery that appear at auction.